Thursday, 10 December 2009

Season's Greetings and Apologies #1

Each week I receive at least one, sometimes two or three, e-mails that come via this blog, from artists just starting out in life, or managers looking for a new way. It has only really dawned on me that this adds up to a hundred or so such contacts in the year.
I’m sorry to say that I have responded to no more than a dozen. I’ve only managed to read a few more than that properly. And I have on just one or two occasions got ‘round to giving the audio clips sent through to me a play. Any that I have replied to or listened to have been on a fairly randomised basis – catching me on a good day so to speak.

So – to all who have contacted me and have either had a half-arsed reply or more probably no reply at all, please accept my sincere apologies. The same goes to all those brave folks who have written to me about their brand new digital music ventures – I’ll post a proper apology to you folks in a day or two.

For the artists and managers, firstly, I wholly appreciate that you read this blog. And I appreciate you taking the initiative to contact me directly, it shows how much you are scanning the market and seeking out any clues to a new approach – something outside the over-worn and ever more precarious tracks of ‘route 1 to market’. To me that’s a positive sign you’ll have some success.

The reason for my non-reply rate is simply that most precious of modern commodities, time. I’m no A&R guy either, as you might have figured out by now if you read JB regularly. You’ll also know that I don’t give out codswallop marketing advice or cod-self-help, this blog isn’t the place for that.

There are plenty of actually rather good places to get genuine advice and fresh ideas. Music Think Tank is great. Derek Sivers’ stuff can be insightful and inspiring. There are occasionally inspired interventions by David Byrne & others in the space – all of whom know this subject rather better than I do.

The ‘Artist Services’ business is booming – you should take advantage of all the low-priced digital service platforms out there – the bandcamps, reverbnations etc. I even signed up to RandR World myself and have found that as a ‘linked-in’ for musicians, it seems to work just as effectively (does Linked-In work effectively?). There are emerging services that focus more specifically on artist career strategies including Rick Goetz’s Musician Coaching. In short, the ‘answers’ are out there.

That said, and for what it’s worth, whenever I have had these types of conversations, what I think I know and do advise comes down to a few suggestions and these are they:

My five codes of conduct for the emerging artist that’s different:

  1. Be in no hurry whatsoever. Why would you be? You are in the field with several million competitors, so an attempt to win a race this isn’t. New music flows onto the market in a continuous, random fashion, so the fans are expecting nothing. Your ‘market-entry-strategy’ is all basically about when you are ready. One trend that does strike me these days is how apparently full-formed bands look when they do emerge. Have you seen & heard Delphic yet? They remind me of Radiohead several albums in. You can’t rely on music to sustain you a living in the early days anyhow, so you are likely to have alternative means of support anyhow. So write as many good songs as you can. It’s better to have two albums worth of strong material when something starts to happen for you.
  2. Set expectations high. Why wouldn’t you? You know all that commentary about the new ‘middle-class’ artist and sustaining a career ‘from 1000 fans’? It’s all utter bunk. Claptrap. Total rhubarb. How on earth, in the current climate of low-loyalty and limitless choice, will you ever convince a small army of dedicated fans to stick with you and buy your stuff long enough for you to have a decent career? It’s too much to ask. The only way bands have acquired a sizeable, dedicated following is by breaking into the big time, for however short a period. You must strive and work towards a breakthrough. How you sustain it from there is critical too – but you need to breakthrough somehow.
  3. Hone your craft in live performance. Can you win over audiences? If the answer is a genuine yes, how are you doing it? With song quality, performance, charm or shock value? Work on the combination. Artists that can get there audiences to ‘transcend’ are, as they say in the old school, the ‘real deal’. You will build a local following and word will spread from there. If it isn’t working on that level, consider changing the material or the membership!
  4. Scan the market. The music market changes constantly. As with all good marketing strategies, understanding the environment in which you are operating is critical to success. Did you catch the news of a new artist investment fund the other week? Did you see that a big corporate is working with an ex-musician to develop services including A&R? Do you have a song that is relevant to something happening out there in which your song could give resonance? Marketing is all about finding context for your stuff. You will need to have one band member or manager or someone out there for you market scanning with one eye on the prize. This is an investment of time and thought, not necessarily money.
  5. Get a plan together. There is no substitute, in my book, for a proper business plan. They never work and they always get scrapped in the end, but the discipline of knowing where you set out from, with what – and a bit of the how – is the best way to get started. I recently met guitarist Martyn Shone from the band Honey Ryder. He shared with me some of the band’s business plans. It was impressive. No wonder the band sold enough shares in themselves to build up a marketing budget equivalent to that of a major label with launch band, but with none of the binding clauses. Just an obligation to do everything in their power to succeed on the major stage.
Good luck. Seasons Greetings.
Oh, and apologies.

In the next couple of posts, I apologise to any number of start-ups, sum up my music of the decade and look forward to major business breakthroughs in 2010. Also, do look out for my next guest post on the MIDEMNET blog as you might like it.

1 comment:

Florelie said...

Keith, I find your music industry blog very useful. Your posts tend to verify the things I already know and also teaches me some great new things.

Here's to 2010. For me, it will be a year of hardwork - recording then touring with a purpose, not just for the sake of it.

All the best with your new year!